Bridget Moreno Lopez gives back to the Texas Tech University School of Law to help first-generation students achieve their dreams.
In a West Texas fourth-grade classroom in the mid-1970s, a teacher prepared her students for a mock trial. Goldilocks was facing several charges, including breaking and entering, theft and destruction of property, just to name a few. The teacher assigned each student a role — judge, jury member, prosecutor, defense attorney and so on.
A young Bridget Moreno Lopez begged to be the prosecutor because obviously Goldilocks was guilty and needed to go down for her crime, but she was assigned to be the defense attorney instead and instructed to figure out how to defend Goldilocks' actions.
“I had to be creative in how I told her story, so I came up with a defense of necessity,” Lopez said with a laugh as she recalled her dramatic retelling of the fairytale. “She was lost, cold, lonely, starving and she didn't have a choice but to go into the three bears' home.”
Although she was young, this mock trial changed Lopez's life. From the age of nine, it was her dream to become a lawyer. Surrounded with support, Lopez chased this dream, capitalizing on her desire to learn, her gender and her Latina heritage to achieve her goal.
Today, she is a managing partner at a national law firm, a strong advocate for the communities she represents and a philanthropist of causes in which her investment will make the biggest impact — including giving to Texas Tech University School of Law to help other students like herself achieve their dreams of becoming lawyers.
Finding the Roadmap
Lopez grew up surrounded by her extended family in the small farming community of Woodrow, Texas, just south of Lubbock. Her grandparents moved from South Texas to West Texas long before she was born and made a career farming and picking cotton.
“I grew up in a large, Catholic Hispanic family with so many beautiful traditions,” Lopez said. “I felt proud as a young girl, and I feel just as proud now to carry on the same traditions of growing up with the language and the closeness of the culture.”
Growing up close to Lubbock, she was familiar with Texas Tech from a young age, participating in University Interscholastic League (UIL) competitions and band and cheerleading camps at the university. This put Texas Tech front and center of Lopez's mind for college.
“Coming from a smaller community, it was awe-inspiring to see such a big university,” Lopez said. “I remember going to campus and watching the football games on TV and always thinking it would be so neat to be a student at Texas Tech and wear the red and black.”
Lopez said her early experiences with the university were critical to her going to college, continuing her higher education goals and not feeling so intimidated when she got to campus.
While she had been around Texas Tech for many years, Lopez still faced several challenges during the beginning of her college career, primarily because she was a first-generation student.
Even though orientation helped her get the basic information she needed, there were still several things she had to navigate on her own. She was awarded several scholarships and felt like she was on good footing financially, but Lopez still was not prepared for the depth of expenses many college students have. She struggled with enrollment and accidentally signed up for classes from 8 a.m. to noon every day of the week during her first semester because she did not know certain classes had multiple sections at different times.
One of the things Lopez found most challenging was connecting with other students on campus. She had a vibrant social life in high school, but only a few of her classmates had come to Texas Tech. Although she had a perfect 4.0 GPA at the end of her first semester, she felt isolated and was missing the social component so many students find in college.
“I just think it's wonderful there are so many programs now,” Lopez said. “There's a roadmap that helps students, minority students and first-generation students across the board, understand what they're supposed to do.”
Through the work of First Generation Transition & Mentoring Programs at Texas Tech, first-generation students now have an abundance of resources available to them. The programs are focused on peer mentorship, social engagement and student success activities to increase undergraduate students' sense of belonging.
Learning the Law and Sharing Her Culture
Lopez started at the Texas Tech School of Law in the fall of 1996, after graduating with her bachelor's degree in political science that spring. While she considered several other schools, the school's positive reputation, especially in trial work, drew her to Texas Tech.
During her time in law school, Lopez saw a desire to increase the diversity of the student population, led primarily by Frank Newton, the dean of students at the time. Lopez worked as a volunteer student recruiter, calling students interested in law school and meeting with prospective students during campus visits.
Their efforts were successful.
The class following Lopez's had the largest number of Latino and African American students to date, including Lopez's future husband Roy, whom she met at a reception hosted by Newton to celebrate this accomplishment.
In addition to helping prospective students explore the opportunity to attend law school, Lopez also was able to share her culture with current students. She would invite her friends to her grandma's house where they would eat traditional Latino food and what Lopez described as the best tortillas in West Texas. Her friends also asked her to teach them Spanish and would even go to Latino dances and quinceañeras with Lopez.
“My friends were curious about my culture,” Lopez said. “They didn't have the same types of traditions in their family, so they would always gravitate toward my house and this fun, big extended family that I grew up in.”
Listening to Opportunity
Because of her Texas Tech education, work ethic and desire to learn, Lopez secured her first job after graduation as a prosecutor working in the child abuse and family violence divisions at the Dallas County District Attorney's Office in 2000.
Lopez's bilingual background was a key component of her success in this role, providing her with opportunities inaccessible to those who could not speak Spanish. There was, and still is, a significant Latino population in Dallas County, whom she was able to relate to and represent in ways others could not.
“I tried one of the most difficult cases in my career before I left [the district attorney's office] with one of my mentors who was just an exceptional trial lawyer,” Lopez said. “The reason I got to try that case was because I spoke Spanish. I was one of the only people who could question the witnesses.”
After about five years at the Dallas District Attorney's Office, Lopez had tried nearly every type of case imaginable except for a capital murder case. It was then that she was approached with an opportunity to move into civil work at Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, a national firm that represents governmental entities in 12 states and has 48 offices.
Initially, she was uninterested in leaving her current position for a civil law firm. However, she interviewed anyway because she had always told herself she would listen to opportunity.
She interviewed with the managing partner of the Dallas office, DeMetris Sampson, a Black woman who, at the time, had been leading the Dallas office for nearly 20 years.
The interview changed her entire perspective on civil work.
“She just blew me away,” Lopez said. “She was somebody I aspired to be because of the things she did in her career and the transformational change she described to me in that interview. Besides being a lawyer, she was changing lives in the community. It really resonated with me, because that was one of the reasons why I went to law school.”
In addition to her law career, Lopez had begun investing in philanthropic work, and this position seemed like the perfect opportunity to blend practicing law with serving the community. After interviewing, Lopez completed her final trial with the district attorney, accepted the new position, and has had a successful career with the Linebarger Law Firm for 18 years.
Sampson's retirement from the firm in 2014 opened the door for a new managing partner to be chosen for the Dallas office, and Lopez once again made the decision to listen to the opportunity. She was the youngest of five colleagues with the least amount of tenure vying for the role, but after a competitive and strenuous interview process, she became the first Hispanic managing partner of the Dallas office.
“When I came to the law firm, Sampson who was way ahead of her time, told me ‘I'm looking for my successor,” Lopez said. “I want someone that's going to know the Latino community and represent us well. That's important, it's part of our business model.'”
The Linebarger Law Firm has a longstanding commitment to this diversity model. The firm understood very early on their workforce and leadership needed to reflect the people they represented, and those they represented needed to know their perspective was understood. This belief is reflected in the company's current leadership with nearly two-thirds of both their capital partners (owners) and management committee members being women and/or people of color.
“True diversity, equity and inclusion starts with those who sit on the board,” Lopez said. “It's not enough just to hire people that represent our society, but those people also need to be included in making decisions. That perspective needs to be on the board.”
Investing in the Community
In her career as a lawyer, Lopez has had tremendous success. Not only has she risen to managing partner in her firm, but she also was recently awarded the “Outstanding Award in Business” by the City of Dallas and elected to membership in the Fellows of the Texas Bar Foundation, an honor given each year to less than 1% of Texas attorneys.
Lopez's career success offered her the opportunity to serve as the keynote speaker for Texas Tech School of Law's May 2022 commencement. Lopez said this was an honor beyond her wildest dreams; it was a full-circle moment to come back and share her experience and advice with students who were in the seats where she had once been.
However, the moment was not all hers to claim.
“I felt like it wasn't really about me, but the people who came before me,” Lopez said with emotion in her voice. “It was the sacrifice of my grandparents who started out in the fields. It was my parents who just had a high-school education. It was my dad who worked so hard so that I could have more opportunity. It was the thought of all the nights my family and I spent working so hard and so long which brought me to the point where other people would hear what I had to say and feel motivated and inspired.”
Her career success has also been marked by investing in her community.
Lopez served as the youngest member of the Redistricting Commission charged with redrawing Dallas City Council district lines. Lopez also has served on the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport Board, the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center board of directors, as the co-chair for the Hispanic 100 Latina Giving Circle, and recently worked closely with The Concilio, a non-profit in Dallas dedicated to building stronger communities by unlocking opportunities for Latino families.
When Lopez joins an organization or board, she doesn't just go through the motions, but rather looks for ways her experience can truly help an organization achieve their goals.
For example, one area of importance to The Concilio, is education. They work with Latino families to help guide students through the process of applying to college and connect those students with senior Latino leaders in the community who can advise them on secondary degree and career opportunities.
This cause stuck a cord with Lopez, because it was exactly what she needed when she was younger. She knew her experiences as an undergraduate student, law student and lawyer had all prepared her to now serve her community.
“What attracts me when I look at an opportunity to serve is how I can be helpful,” Lopez said. “I don't want to just put my name on something, I want to make it stronger, better.”
Just as Lopez has invested in helping first-generation students in Dallas achieve their dreams of going to college, she has also invested in helping first-generation students at the Texas Tech School of Law do the same. This spring her family created the Bridget and Roy Lopez Family First-Generation Scholarship Endowment which is offered to first-generation students at the School of Law.
While increasing opportunity starts at the school, Lopez believes there must be partnership with community law firms, individuals like herself and others who can provide encouragement and open doors.
“If someone is concerned they can't go to law school because of the cost or debt, then I don't want that financial barrier to stop them,” Lopez said. “I've received so much from graduating from law school and undergrad at Texas Tech, and I've had a beautiful, long career. It's time to give back.”